Updated on 2 Mar 2014: Originally published on 24 Feb 2014, we have updated the article to a complete review after receiving the final retail version of the Sound Blaster Roar. As such, we have provided a detailed analysis of how it sounds and our verdict on its overall performance.
At CES earlier this year, we reported on a new portable wireless speaker from Creative called the Sound Blaster Roar. If you are an audiophile or if you just happen to like listening to music in general, chances are you would have read or heard about this little device. Since its debut at CES, it has received a lot of attention, for reasons which we will share with you today because just days ago, we had the chance to spend some time with the new Creative Sound Blaster Roar in a special behind-closed-doors session at their offices, where we were briefed on how the the speaker was conceived, its capabilities and also had a better chance to experience its audio performance.
According to Creative, the Sound Blaster Roar is the result of many years of research of single piece speaker systems. The research revolved around identifying the faults and weaknesses of current systems as well as constantly benchmarking against reference audio systems in their listening labs to create a true audiophile-grade single piece speaker.
As a result of this research, Creative discovered that speakers of this type tend to be used in "near-field" and "mid-far field" situations, meaning either up close or in environments such as parties and get-togethers. They also found that most users don't remain still when listening to such speakers and often move about, hence using these speakers mostly to generate "background music". Consequently, this also means such speakers are often played at low to mid-level volumes, and most speaker designs lack oomph and punch at such volumes.
Seeking to address these problems and correct some of the issues faced by one-piece speaker systems currently in the market led Creative to design the Sound Blaster Roar in the way it is today.
To begin, unlike most one-piece speaker systems and wireless speakers, the Sound Blaster Roar has a flat, cuboid design that is more flat than upright. Popular speakers in this category such as Bose’ SoundLink and Jawbone’s JAMBOX are taller in their profile. The Sound Blaster Roar is also remarkably compact, perhaps the size of a large book, and weighs around 1.1kg and feels solidly put together.
The reason for this difference in design is to ensure that the Sound Blaster Roar can better fill a room with sound. In addition, Creative has adopted no less than five drivers in the Sound Blaster Roar - two forward-facing drivers in charge of the highs, an active bass unit in the middle that tackles the mids and bass and fires upwards, and finally two side firing radiators that handles the bass. This setup, according to Creative, allows the Sound Blaster Roar to effectively fill whatever environment it is in with sound and also helps it create more width and height, a complaint that is typical of many one-piece speaker systems.
Another benefit of such a configuration and setup is that the center of gravity of the speaker is kept low, so that when users crank the volume up and the drivers start to vibrate more violently, the entire speaker stays stable and does not move uncontrollably.
Finally, to ensure that all the drivers have sufficient juice, the Sound Blaster Roar employs a two amplifiers, allowing the drivers to be powered to their maximum limit. It also reduces the effects of loosing bass at high volumes, a problem that often plagues single amplifier designs.
Creative also said that most single piece speakers in the market today make use of Class D amplifiers that sound too clinical, hence leaving listeners feeling detached. Because of this, Creative has specially picked amplifiers (still Class D) that produces a more warm and rounded sound.
First and foremost, the Sound Blaster Roar is a wireless speaker that lets you pair with devices either via NFC or Bluetooth with support for both aptX and AAC codecs for Android and iOS devices respectively. And with Creative Multipoint, you can connect up to two devices to it simultaneously. Obviously you cannot play from two sources at once, but if you pause playback on one device, you can quickly begin playback on the other devices without the troublesome procedure of disconnecting the first and then pairing the second device.
The Sound Blaster Roar also comes with a built-in microSD card reader and microphone that allows it to be used in other ways. For instance, it can directly play WMA and MP3 tracks off inserted microSD cards. The microphone lets users answer calls, and there is also a recording button that lets users record their conversations to the microSD card. You can also use the record function to record either directly from the microphone or from a Bluetooth or auxiliary source.
The Sound Blaster Roar also has a USB and micro-USB port that allows the device to be used as a portable battery bank to charge your other mobile devices or as an external sound card and speaker for your desktop and notebook systems.
And then there are other 'fun' features such as the Alarm button that sounds a loud siren, acting as a distress call. There is also a Life-Saver mode that helps keep you awake and alert by playing loud and unexpected sound bites at random intervals.
To begin, let’s talk about preparing the Sound Blaster Roar to play music wireless. The process is really straightforward and easy whether you are using NFC or manually pairing using Bluetooth. With NFC-enabled devices, simply enable NFC on your phone or tablet and simply tap your device on the NFC logo on the Sound Blaster Roar, you will hear a prompt to indicate that pairing is successful.
To pair manually using Bluetooth, simply hold the Bluetooth button on the Sound Blaster Roar until the LED status indicator starts blinking a white light and you hear a voice to prompt to tell you that it is scanning for compatible devices. Thereafter, simply select the Sound Blaster Roar on your Bluetooth-enabled device and you are all set.
Some portable wireless Bluetooth speaker systems are prone to drop outs, but we managed to stream music to the Sound Blaster Roar with no issues. However, we did find that drop outs can occur if you use it in an environment where there are many wireless signals being broadcasted - your Wi-Fi router's 2.4GHz band and various wireless input devices such as keyboards and mice can all interfere with the Bluetooth connection.
You can also connect the Sound Blaster Roar via USB to your PC or Mac using the provided cable so that it acts as an external sound card and speaker for your computer. To increase functionality and customizability, you can also choose to download the Sound Blaster Control Panel app to adjust settings such as bass, crossover frequency and various DSP modes and more.
Before we begin, we have to point out that the unit that we auditioned at the closed door session was not yet the final retail version, but we were told that they would offer a good feel and gauge of what the actual retail units would sound like.
Sadly, we did not manage to audition with our personal test tracks and we did not have as much time as we would have liked with the Roar, so we are going to reserve our final judgment until we get our hands on a review unit. However, Creative ran the Sound Blaster Roar through a variety of different tracks - vocals, rock and classic - to showcase the speaker’s prowess, and suffice to say, we were deeply impressed.
At CES, attendees which visited Creative’s booth were astounded by the loudness and clarity of the Sound Blaster Roar and like them, these were the first things that grabbed our attention. Despite being just the size of a large book, we were impressed by the sheer output of the speaker. And if that is not enough, there is even a Roar button on the speaker that further boosts the output of speakers.
We noted that apart from being powerful sounding, one thing that was also apparent about the Roar was its ability to reproduce deep and punchy bass notes without sacrificing on the mids and highs which we found to be warm, rounded and sparkly.
We were immediately reminded of Creative’s very capable Gigaworks T3 2.1 speaker system. The audio qualities of it are similar to that of the Roar, with the exception of the Sound Blaster Roar having tighter bass and perhaps slightly less bright highs. This is high praise considering the Gigaworks T3 fared well in our 2.1-channel speaker shootout and the fact that the Sound Blaster Roar can achieve similar levels of aural performance with just a single speaker unit.
Much like our closed door session at Creative’s HQ, the first thing that struck us about the Sound Blaster Roar is how loud it is and can be despite its relatively compact size. It may not be the most compact nor the lightest portable wireless speaker we have tested, but the effortlessly way in which it fills a room with sound is second to none. There is even a "Roar" button to boost volume levels even louder. Perhaps the only times one would use this function is at a crowded party or in a big open space as we found that pushing the button does boost the volume noticeably. Thankfully, even in "Roar' mode, the speaker managed to keep things distortion free.
Delving deeper, we decided to begin our evaluation of the Sound Blaster Roar’s performance with an audiophile favorite, The Eagle’s Hotel California. The introduction consisting of guitars and bongo drums was very well managed with the guitars sounding well textured and bright and the bongo drums sounding deep and impactful. Don Henley’s vocals were also very well articulated and smooth sounding. However, it soon became clear during the dual guitar solo that stereo separation was not one of the Sound Blaster Roar’s strong suits as it sounded very much like a single piece speaker.
On Sail on Soothsayer, the Sound Blaster Roar exhibited great speed and dexterity to keep up with Buckethead’s virtuoso guitar playing. In addition, the Sound Blaster Roar also displayed good transparency and clarity with very nice and clear mids and highs, though it can sound a tad harsh at times, especially on higher volumes.
Tiesto’s Elements of Life is a fast, bass-heavy trance track that has proved to be tricky for many portable wireless speakers to deal with, but the Sound Blaster Roar did not disappoint. It showed good speed to keep up with this busy track and bass performance was particularly impressive - considering the Sound Blaster Roar’s size - as it was deep and fairly clean with only a slight hint of muddiness at extreme volumes.
We concluded our formal testing with Melt My Heart to Stone and found Adele’s vocals to sound warm, powerful and silky smooth. The song is punctuated with heavy drums and the Sound Blaster Roar handled that well too, keeping it clean and well-controlled.
To sum up, we found the Sound Blaster Roar to be a very competent compact wireless speaker system. Its ability to play at high volumes with no signs of cracking or distortion is particular impressive for a speaker of its class and size. In terms of audio performance, the Sound Blaster Roar offered very good clarity, smooth mids and deep, well-controlled bass. It also exhibited very good speed and dexterity.
Unfortunately, it has the same problems that just about every speaker in this category faces and that is the lack of stereo separation. While it does fill a room with sound, it still sounded too direct for our liking and there is little distinction between left and right channels. That's perhaps a problem best tackled by discrete stereo speakers or a sound bar.
|Hotel California - The Eagles||9.0|
|Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead||9.5|
|Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele||9.0|
|Elements of Life - Tiesto||9.0|
As it is, the Sound Blaster Roar is an impressive audio gadget, considering its performance and size. But it has yet one more trick up its sleeves and that is price. Creative has benchmarked its Sound Blaster Roar against the pricier and arguably more illustrious Bose SoundLink wireless speaker and bear in mind that this is a system that costs almost S$500. The Sound Blaster Roar, on the other hand, has a recommended retail price of S$299 - a whopping $200 less.
What’s more, at this coming IT Show, we have received word that Creative will be offering the Sound Blaster Roar at a promotional price of S$199. This represents tremendous value for money and it is a no-brainer for us to recommend to anyone who is looking for a powerful portable wireless Bluetooth speaker.
Updated on 2 Mar, 2014:-
Previously, we wrote that the company wants to give more focus to its products and the first products to embody this new philosophy was the Sound BlasterAxx speakers. The speakers performed admirably and we were keen to see how the new Sound Blaster Roar would follow up on the Sound BlasterAxx’s speakers success.
First and foremost, audio performance is exemplary of a speaker of its class and size, and easily rivals and even outclasses lesser 2.1 speaker systems. In fact, it can only really be faulted for its lack of stereo separation - a problem that plagues nearly every single speaker system that we have tested. That aside, it is relatively small and compact; easy to use and setup; and also has a ton of other features (though some of its usefulness is questionable) such as direct playback from a microSD card, a built-in microphone with noise-canceling to take calls with, mobile battery bank, recording functionality and the Alarm button and Life-Saver mode.
With regards to pricing and as we have mentioned, it has a promotional price of S$199 at the IT Show and that makes it an absolute steal. However, even at its recommended retail price of S$299, the Sound Blaster Roar still represents good value for money considering all that it has going for it as compared to its competitive playing field.
All things considered, the Sound Blaster Roar comes highly recommended if you are in the market for a compact wireless Bluetooth speaker. At a weight of 1.1kg, it may not be very portable, but for those who don't mind a little heft, the compact powerhouse can be considered as a portable wireless speaker too. For a lighter and colorful option, the Tech Awards 2014 winner of our Best Wireless Portable Speaker category, the Creative Airwave HD, is another option worth considering (though the Sound Blaster Roar is more powerful and feature packed).